How Not to Suck: three soulless vampire movies

Vampire movies have been quite popular recently. Well, they’ve always been quite popular. If you only count those with some link to Dracula, there are dozens. Vampires are a staple of horror movies, as well as, increasingly, fantasy action movies, abandoning audience fear in favour of a good villain for the protagonist to fight – or a cool supernatural being for the protagonist to team up with. (Oh, and this is not really a how to article, I just wanted to get as many puns in the title as possible and that’s what I could think of).

Some movies do vampires very well indeed. Some manage well enough. But as with all genres, there are some that are just terrible movies. Just really awful, mind-bogglingly so. And for some reason, I’ve deliberately gone and watched some of these.

The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 2

Full disclaimer: I have neither read the books nor seen the other movies, just this one; I went to see it with a friend. And I am fully aware my opinion on this may well be controversial since the franchise has such a large following. What I have to say here is an outside perspective, based on this movie alone, without the context of the books or previous movies, so if you disagree with me, just blame it on that.

For those who have not seen it, Breaking Dawn Part 2 is the concluding part of the Twilight Saga. Bella (Kristen Stewart) is now a vampire and she and Edward (Robert Pattinson) have a half-human, half-vampire daughter, Renesmee. Another vampire sees Renesmee playing and thinks she’s a child that was turned. The vampire council, the Volturi, don’t like this as turned vampire children are uncontrollable, and come after both Bella and her daughter. Bella and the Cullens recruit witnesses to prove Renesmee was born, not turned, and isn’t dangerous. Bella and allies face off against the Volturi. There’s a big battle and lots of people die on both sides, but actually is was a vision given to Volturi boss Aro by Alice Cullen, a seer. After proof arrives Renesmee isn’t a threat in the form of another half-vampire, half-human, the Volturi leave. Everyone lives happily ever after.

The problem is, there’s not much actual plot. The first half is just Bella learning how to be a vampire, Renesmee growing up unnaturally fast, and the Cullens chatting to vampires seeking witnesses to attest that Renesmee wasn’t turned. At no point does it feel like there’s much going on, as though the plot is advancing. The pacing is slow, the events lacking tension and the performances dry. It’s dull.

A large chunk of the movie involves the big battle scene – and by the looks of it, a significant amount of the special effects budget. It’s a long scene, showing exactly what happens to each individual on both sides. The earth splits apart, vampires and werewolves fight, characters on both sides have their own personal victories or else die in gruesome ways. But then it turns out it was nothing but a vision of a potential future, a warning to Aro of what will happen if he presses the issue. Take out the vision, and the climax is reduced to two groups facing off across a frozen lake, having a chat, and parting ways. And that’s what everyone except Alice and Aro actually see.

The other issue I had with the film – and this is almost certainly a product of my not having read the books or seen the previous films – is that it’s hard to keep track of the side characters. There are so many faces, and most of them were named only once. Sure they looked pretty cool – the best part of the film was costume/character design – but to me those that weren’t the main four, Carlisle or Aro just ended up being mooks on the battle lines.

In all fairness, this is the least bad of the three films I’ve collected here. It wasn’t awful, it just wasn’t good. It was visually impressive and the concept behind it – that vampires don’t turn children because they’re unmanageable, and think Bella and Edward turned a child which was actually born half-vampire, half-human – had potential. But in the end evidence-gathering turned out dull, and wasn’t enough for the Volturi anyway; then Alice turns up out of the blue with a vision to convince Aro, which isn’t enough either; and then like some sort of Greek actor playing Zeus lowered onto stage by pulley, another half-vampire, half-human turns up that nobody knew anything about, saving the day.

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter presents itself as an alternative biopic of the titular American president. After Lincoln (Benjamin Walker) tries – and fails – to kill the vampire that killed his mother, Henry Sturges (Dominic Cooper) recruits him as a vampire hunter, trains him, and reveals that the ultimate goal is to defeat Adam (Rufus Sewell), a vampire plantation owner. Henry sends Lincoln on missions to kill vampires, including eventually Barts, the vampire who killed Lincoln’s mother, from whom Lincoln learns that Henry is a vampire. By this time Adam has become aware of Lincoln’s activities and kidnaps his childhood friend William in an attempt to recruit Lincoln to his cause – to turn American into the land of the undead. Lincoln and William are rescues by Joshua Speed, Lincoln’s boss at the shop he’s been working in.

Lincoln enters politics, becomes president and ultimately issues the Emancipation Proclamation to deprive the southern vampires of their main food source, slaves. As the civil war begins, Lincoln’s forces suffer defeats at the hands of the vampires, so stockpiles silver to produce weapons. Speed tells the vampires that the silver is being transported by train. Said train is attacked, resulting in a fight between the vampires on one side and Lincoln, William, Speed and Henry on the other, but it emerges the train was a trap and didn’t have silver on at all. Lincoln kills Adam with his silver pocket watch. Meanwhile, Lincoln’s wife Mary and the ex-slaves have carried the silver to Gettysburg here the vampires are defeated once and for all.

Quite apart from the ridiculousness of the concept – based on a novel and a transparent attempt to attract attention with a big name – there are some serious problems with the message of this movie.

First, there’s Lincoln’s motivation for the Emancipation Proclamation. It seems motivated not by the belief that it’s the right thing to do because slavery is inherently bad, but by the desire to undermine vampire leader Adam by depriving the southern vampires of a food source that doesn’t have the means to fight back. Freeing the slaves isn’t, in this movie, about what’s right, but used as a pawn in a larger game between mortals and the undead. And that’s a repugnant message to portray.

Secondly, there’s Lincoln’s motivation for fighting the vampires in the first place. A vampire killed his mother (and, later, another killed his son), so he sets out to kill all vampires. But it’s been established that vampires aren’t all evil – Henry Sturges is one good vampire, and vampirism is presented more like a cult. In short, vampires aren’t automatically evil. Thus going after the whole lot of them because a few are demonstrably evil is a generalisation.

Stupid messages aside, this movie is just another over the top action movie that happens to have vampires and also Abraham Lincoln in it. The plot is hardly cohesive, fallout of the fact that they’re trying to put Abraham Lincoln and also vampires into the same movie. Character motivations are transparent. Many plot elements – like the revelation that Henry is a vampire – are so obvious that Abraham Lincoln must have been blind, brain damaged or both to miss it. The female characters are one-dimensional, with Mary given a last minute bit of badassery as if to say “look, we’ve included a strong woman!”.

In all, a thorough waste of time. But not as much as my third and final offering:

Bloodrayne

Directed by Uwe Boll (who was behind such blockbusters as Alone in the Dark and House of the Dead), Bloodrayne tells the story of a young Damphir, Rayne (Kristanna Loken), a half-vampire, half-human, who escapes a travelling carnival where’s she’s one of the attractions to go after her evil vampire father, Kagan (Ben Kingsley). Eventually she meets and sides with Brimstone, led by Vladimir (Michael Madsen), Sebastian (Matthew Davis) and Katarin (Michelle Rodriguez), sets about finding the three relics of a long-dead vampire – the Eye, the Rib and the Heart – which grant a vampire who absorbs them various immunities to standard vampire weaknesses, as a means to defeat Kagan. In finding the heart, Rayne has to fight Katarin, who has turned on Brimstone to side with her father, a recently-turned vampire who seeks to challenge Kagan’s power.

After learning Kagan has the Rib, she absorbs the Heart and Eye, and walks right into his castle where she is captured by Kagan, who wants to extract the Heart and Eye from her. Vladimir and Sebastian come in to save the day, and Rayne defeats Kagan, but only after everyone else has already died.

There is far too much to say about this movie to easily fit it into this article. It is full of plot holes, bad acting, transparent exposition, non-existent fight choreography and terrible direction. There are a lot of questions a discerning viewer will ask that never gets answered. There’s even a cameo by director Uwe Boll himself, applauding in the carnival crowd, where he’s wearing what looks like a gold watch on his left wrist.

I will briefly address the worst plot holes.

First, there’s Rayne’s carnival friend, a performer who, even though Rayne is locked up and treated like a dangerous animal, has managed to befriend her enough to give her a cross and later her fancy candle-cutting sword things. This woman, one can only assume, has been told by the ringmaster that Rayne is dangerous, a demon, but happily talks to her even so and nobody stops her. But she never attempts to free Rayne herself, even though it’s clear the wagon Rayne is imprisoned in can be opened from the outside as a random man does this with the aim of raping her. Some friend.

Then there’s Rayne’s memories. She tells the story of how Kagan raped and murdered her mother, and she has memories of this event – clearly something is out of order here. It turns out later that Kagan came back looking for Rayne when Rayne was a child, and murdered her mother then. It is unclear why Kagan didn’t kill her the first time he encountered her.

Then there’s the Eye. It is guarded by a giant troll thing and some mechanics which really shouldn’t exist in the time period portrayed by the other elements of the movie (aside: Wikipedia claims it is set in 18th century Romania, but there’s no sign of guns, industry of any kind, or indeed any features besides clothing that make it look set later than the 14th century; clothing can hardly be counted because Rayne’s costume at least was based on sexiness, not period accuracy). It is only after Rayne gets the eye that other defences emerge, namely water starting to fill the room. Vampires, including Rayne, have a weakness to water (not holy water, not running water, just water in general), but, oh, they eye give immunity to that particular weakness, so she absorbs it and everything is fine.

Next there’s Katarin. Her father, it seems, was once the leader of Brimstone, and is now believed to be dead, but is actually a vampire. Katarin is in contact with him, and keeps this secret. Eventually it becomes clear that she has betrayed Brimstone. One minor character even says that she has “turned”, implying she’s a vampire now, though no marks are visible on her neck. Either way, she’s sided with vampire Daddy against Brimstone, and seeks the Heart. It’s under Brimstone HQ, it turns out – at the bottom of a deep pool of water, into which she happily dives unhurt (so not a vampire, since water hurts vampires). Rayne jumps in too, and eventually kills Katarin in the struggle. But Rayne only kills vampires, not humans. Basically, it’s really ambiguous whether Katarin is a vampire or not, and if not, why she betrayed Brimstone.

Finally, there’s Rayne’s entry to Kagan’s castle. She comes bearing gifts, she claims – the Heart, in its ancient little wooden box. This is accepted without inspection, and she’s thrown in the dungeon. The box, meanwhile, is given to Kagan, who happily accepts it, monologuing on his approaching victory. But he doesn’t check it. What makes it worse is that he’s just been ogling the Rib in its box, but he doesn’t even want to look at the Heart, he just assumes it’s there. So basically, Rayne just bluffed her way into the castle by pretending to offer the Heart, and everyone just trusts it in the box. Her plan, such that it was, would have failed instantly has someone actually looked, but they didn’t. Her plan relies on people being stupid.

There were other, less important plot holes and ridiculous bits, but those are the worst. The whole plot reads like a 14 year old’s first draft of a script, produced without any planning whatsoever. Ben Kingsley’s opinion of it is clearly reflected in his performance – I have never seen such uninspired acting and dry delivery. Rayne and Sebastian’s sex scene, inspired on Rayne’s side by a nightmare that for some reason made her horny, comes right out of the blue, built upon precisely no chemistry. In fact none of the actors have any on-screen chemistry. Meat Loaf’s brief scene is characterised by naked ladies and a performance that goes from large ham to reading-the-lines-off-camera piss poor delivery.

There is not a single positive thing that can be said about this movie. I’m trying, I really am. It is the worst film I have ever seen.

What other vampire movies belong on this list? What makes them so bloodcurdlingly awful? Do you disagree with me about any point made above? Where have I missed out on opportunities for bad vampire-related puns?

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